After nearly 19 years, I find that all of my memories are wrapped up in the details. Fragments, moments, glimpses stitched together to make a picture of the woman who raised me and was then gone without warnings or goodbyes.
A scar and a misshapen fingernail, the remnants of a long-ago childhood fight lost to a wringer washing machine.
The smell of perfume and cigarette smoke mingling as she sat on the edge of my bed to say goodnight before heading out with her girlfriends in her long suede coat.
The sight of the steam rising from her early morning cup of coffee as she sat in the reclining chair reading a book in the early morning quiet.
The twinkle of mischief in her eye when she laughed.
The fire in her voice, born of years of self-reliance, when she was angry.
The feel of her standing behind me at the stove, my short legs aided by a chair, as she taught me all of the secrets she knew to cooking while my tummy grumbled happily.
The way she fell asleep in her chair after long hours of factory work.
My loneliness, my longing for her, while she worked evenings or nights or days to support her family.
Pretending to be sick to stay home from school with her for the day.
One perfect day of my skipping school and her skipping work and shopping and having lunch, just the two of us, together.
These details are all I have. Of course, like any relationship, ours was much more complicated than these. My childish understanding of the choices she made, the sacrifices she made, was never enough to help me appreciate all that she was. It was only when I started to scratch the surface of understanding her as an adult that she died. Even now, these many years later, I find that those layers peel back further and further, allowing me to see the world, if only a little, through her eyes. To understand the bone tired and the worry and the joy and the sweat and the tears that go into motherhood. To appreciate the ends to which she went to try, in the best way she knew how, to secure my happiness.
The detail I recall now is the card I gave her for her last Mother's Day. I cannot remember the entire thing word for word, but I can remember the message. It said no matter how old you get, you will always need your mother. I had wanted her to know I still needed her, even now that I was growing up and becoming more independent. And the final line, etched clear in my mind, still rings true to this day:
I want my mommy.